Hayes: Competing on all fronts

Emma Hayes is looking forward to a bright future at Chelsea Ladies after signing a new contract until 2021.

The 41-year-old is the most successful manager in the team’s history, having led us to three trophies during her tenure, which began in 2012.

After lifting the Spring Series trophy in June, the Blues have carried that form into the 2017/18 campaign with three wins out of three in the WSL1 and progress in the Women’s Champions League after edging an epic last-32 tie against Bayern Munich.

As we discovered from Hayes when we sat down with her shortly after the ink had dried on her new contract, European success is high on her list of priorities for the next three and a half years...

 

Congratulations on your new contract. Was it an easy decision to re-sign here?

I couldn’t be happier at this point in my career. I’ve put an awful lot into Chelsea these past five years but the club has also invested an awful lot in me – they’ve given me both the support and the resources to provide an environment which can help us become one of the top clubs in Europe. I just couldn’t see myself anywhere else and it makes absolute sense to commit to the club going forward. This is a place which I feel very much a part of and it is very dear in my heart.

 

From the moment you arrived you demanded the very best for the Ladies, both on and off the pitch. Do you feel your ambition is being matched here?

A club like Chelsea has high standards and that doesn’t always mean it’s about money – it means everything we do must represent the badge in the most appropriate way possible. I make no secret of those ambitions and representing the club properly and I think every time I’ve spoken to the club about next-step development they’ve been behind us in a supportive and progressive way, but without being reckless. I think that’s the important thing – this is something we’re doing progressively over a period of time, rather than all at once.

 

What would you like to achieve by the end of the next three and a half years? Another three-and-a-half-year contract?

I’d be happy to remain at this club for as long as it wants me, but only as long as I’m competing for trophies on all fronts. That’s the basic expectation. Also we have special ambitions to compete in Europe and I’d like to think at the end of that period we really are knocking on that door and getting our hands closer to that trophy, if not having already experienced that.

 

In light of that, how big a step was it to eliminate Bayern Munich, a European heavyweight, in your most-recent tie?

The biggest, in many ways. It seems crazy to think that when you consider the importance of winning the first trophy and then doing the Double.

 Celebrating victory in the Champions League


Is it not just a case of the most recent step always being the biggest?

Of course, I understand that, but once you start to get recognised on a European and world stage then I think we’re achieving the ambitions put forward by the club. We’re now taken seriously across Europe; whether that’s teams dreading drawing us, because we remain an unseeded team, or it’s the top players considering joining us. Beating Bayern Munich only solidifies that position. It also gives the players a real insight into what it takes, because you can’t become European savvy until you’ve played in the competition against the very best players. Even for our tender years and experience in it, we’re fast growing up and not only competing with the best teams, but also beating them.

 

How big would it be for this club to still be in the Champions League in the new year? That’s what awaits the winner of our last-16 tie with Rosengard.

That’s the ambition, that’s our goal. We know we’ve got a tough draw, but we also know we’ve got a very resilient dressing room, full of fabulous characters who have the belief and, importantly, the courage to play the top teams and to win against them. We need to continue learning from all our experiences and respect the opponent, but at the same make sure we are at our very best to give us a chance of beating the top sides in Europe. 

 Drew Spence puts the team ahead in the tie against Bayern Munich


Do you feel you have a squad capable of doing that consistently?

I think this is the first time we’ve had a squad that can compete on all fronts. To progress further in the top competition we’re still going to need to develop more experience in it, but we’re certainly getting closer. When you’re against European clubs and you know you’re in with a chance of winning, that is something we haven’t experienced until this point. But also domestically we are the team most of the opponents fear, because the depth and the variety within our squad makes it extremely difficult for opposition managers to predict what our starting line-up will be.


Look back a couple of years to the club’s Champions League debut and you had very few options outside of our starting line-up, with the bench largely filled with young players. Against Bayern you had Eniola Aluko, Ji So-Yun, and Erin Cuthbert as unused subs. That is serious depth.

I’ve said many times over that you cannot compete in Europe without having a squad to make the training environment hugely competitive on a daily basis. That is what the biggest change has been. Training can sometimes be tougher than some of the games we play at the weekend, because it’s full of internationals. A lot of players would argue that the training environment is harder than when they go away with their national teams, which has never been the case for a domestic team. That just shows you the quality we’ve got at our disposal.

 Emma Hayes with assistant Paul Green and striker Fran Kirby


As well as the quality of players at your disposal, we must mention your staff, too. You’re a close-knit group – indeed, you share your office with assistant manager Paul Green – and the majority of them have been here since the first year you joined.

I’ve always said we wouldn’t be in this position without the quality of the people who are invested in Chelsea Ladies. It’s one of the most open, diverse, evolved group of people I’ve ever worked with. They’ve often adopted different roles in their time here, done what’s necessary to progress us further, and their work doesn’t go unnoticed. Every day I have to remind myself not to take them for granted because the value they bring to the organisation and to Chelsea Ladies is equally important as the talent on the pitch.